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At the Table: an evening of fun and feasting with Olympia and Ariadne Irving

Having hosted the most recent Neighbourhood Supper – a glamorous dinner for Inigo’s local friends – the De Beauvoir-based sisters, who together with their mother run Carolina Irving & Daughters, share their tips and tricks for the ultimate stylish soirée

Olympia and Ariadne Irving
Ellen Hancock
At the Table: an evening of fun and feasting with Olympia and Ariadne Irving

We love to host. It’s in our blood, really. We grew up with parents – and grandparents – who were in their element when throwing parties. There were always people around at home, so hosting a dinner is a tradition for us, in a way. It’s also why we founded our business with our mum – Carolina Irving & Daughters was born out of our family’s love of hosting and filling the table with beautiful things.

When it comes to dinners, the most important thing is that your guests feel comfortable. We care about that just as much as what we’re going to cook. And coming up with a good guest list is vital in that regard. It doesn’t matter if people don’t know each other – that’s not a barrier to having a good time – but what is crucial is having a few good ‘staple’ friends, the ones you know can talk to anyone. That being said, the best way to ensure people feel at ease when they come to your house is by being at ease yourself.

On that note, as sisters who live together, we have the advantage of having twice as many hands, which makes prepping in advance much easier. We’re lucky, too, that we have complementary skill sets as hosts. If we both were trying to do the same thing – and better than the other! – it would be a total disaster. Ariadne is the stylist, making sure everything looks perfect. The table is her domain – and she does it beautifully, making sure it’s laid before she does anything else. Not only does it mean that’s one thing ticked off your list, but it makes you excited every time you walk past. Preparation is everything – especially when it comes to cooking, which is Olympia’s territory. Lists, lists, lists! We couldn’t do anything without a list.

For this dinner, we had no idea if it was going to rain or not, so we hired a tent for the garden, thinking we could still make the most of the September warmth even if it was wet. It was a great success – we used it even though it was dry – and people loved it. Even though everyone was sitting down, the aim was to keep it informal, which was why we served dinner as a buffet. Family-style cooking is our thing – we love people just diving into big sharing platters – and we adore a buffet. It gets people talking, even if they don’t know each other, and you can prep almost everything ahead of time, plating it all up on beautiful dishes.

Menu-wise, knowing your limits is key. We’re not going to serve boeuf bourguignon to 50 people when we’ve never made it before! This time, we asked our friends Nil Mutluer from Heal Goblin, and Song-i, who runs Pyscis, a tinned-fish company, to help us with the food. It was, if we say so ourselves, delicious – sardines on toast, ricotta toast with anchovies, tomato tonnato, a big niçoise salad, all washed down with bottles from Emile Wines. We also served melon and prosciutto. I’m not sure we’ve ever done a dinner without melon and prosciutto. I’m not sure we ever will.

Olympia and Ariadne’s treasured hosting objects

Silver beakers
There’s something particularly precious about things given to you by family. We love knowing they loved them too. These 18th-century Swedish silver beakers, which we often fill with flowers, were a present from our dad. They are full of wonderful old-world glamour, which we think works really well against the masses of mismatched textiles we’ve got at home; we love a mix of the rustic and the elegant. When all the candles are lit, they look particularly gorgeous, bouncing the glow around. In fact, everything and everyone looks more gorgeous in candlelight. There’s no such thing as too many candles.

Scallop sconces
As we’ve said, candlelight is crucial to setting a mood and these wall lights – which came from Wallis Antiques – are the best foil for it, creating lovely luminous vignettes in their aura. They’re shell-shaped too, which of course we’re very fond of, as anyone who’s seen our logo will know.

Bar table
Everyone needs a good bar table. It’s what gets the party started! It always brings people together – and it presents another opportunity for table dressing: more flowers, masses of beautiful bottles and coloured glassware, cute little tchotchkes and pretty matchboxes. This one came from our friend Remy Renzullo and has always been something of a centrepiece in our homes.

Bud vases
We designed these bud vases as part of our ‘Antheia’ collection. They’re tiny versions of ancient Greek amphora – they only take a couple of stems each – but dotted along a table or a mantlepiece, they look so pretty. When it comes to flowers for parties, we both agree that bigger isn’t always better. Firstly, huge arrangements stop you seeing your friends across the table and, secondly, they leave less space for beautiful tableware, which drives Olympia mad. Sometimes, all a table needs is a white tablecloth, some pretty plates and a few simple blooms.

Andie Dinkin painting
We haven’t actually met Andie, who’s an artist living in New York but we have lots of mutual friends, which was how we came across her work. She paints wonderful scenes involving food and wine, people and celebrations that feel very much of now – her stroke is so fluid – though there’s an echo of the past in them too, which is really beautiful. Our one is of a feast and is filled with floating champagne glasses; it’s incredibly joyful and it feels so right for a room that’s at its best when filled with people.

Further reading

Carolina Irving & Daughters

Carolina Irving & Daughters on Instagram

At the Table: the art of hosting at home, with Lucinda Chambers

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